Hot on the trail of Mr. Nobody (well, lukewarm on the trail, maybe), the gang slowly makes their way to Paraguay in the hopes of finding Niles Caulder. What awaits them when they get there is far weirder than they could have expected.
This week’s episode struck perhaps the best balance of goofy superhero violence and genuine pathos that this series has achieved so far. A lot of this has to do with Larry’s continuing arc, which is truly the heart of this episode.
Larry Trainor, as we learned through his argument with Mr. Nobody last week and through his flashbacks this week, is a man who has been running for his entire life. First from his own sexuality, then from the people who still wanted to support him, and finally from the responsibility of learning to cope with the power he has within him.
Larry always wants control, which manifests itself in many different ways: his refusal to come out to his wife, his decision to shut himself off from his boyfriend, his desire to set “ground rules” between himself and the energy being inside his body. He wants to exert some kind of control and it’s always out of his reach. The “negative spirit,” as Jane calls it, almost represents a freedom that Larry never allowed himself to have, even before his accident. That may be why it vexes him nearly to the point of no return.
This is a truly incredible analysis of the character on the part of the series’ writers. Matt Bomer does an excellent job of embodying his voice with a sense of indignant resignation. He’s so tired and sad, but annoyed about it. It’s a shame that this arc is kind of wrapped up within the clumsiest scripting moment of the episode…more on that in a bit.
As our heroes continue to struggle with accepting themselves and learning to be real heroes, we’re treated to what the world really looks like when the Doom Patrol try to live in it. The word is out about the freaks at the center of Cloverton’s destruction, and the townspeople are not happy about it, chasing down Jane in the episode’s opening moments. It will be interesting to see if the gang can win these folks over again, or if it’ll even matter to them in the long run. In one way or another, this episode forces all of them to come to terms with the monsters they’ve become. It seems as though it will be up to the Patrol to decide whose approval means more to them: the outside world’s or their own.
Speaking of that opening: in previous reviews, I’ve neglected to mention how solid the soundtrack is to this series. Clint Mansell and Kevin Kiner’s score to this series is absolutely perfect. Equal parts quirky and gothic, it fits the tone of the show and its characters to a tee. The show also regularly secures the perfect needle drops for each episodes, as in last week’s use of David Bowie’s “Lazarus” and this week’s toe-tapping (and face-stapling) Bikini Kill-filled intro. Almost none of the music choices are too on the nose, with the exception of this episode’s bonkers fight scene, which works because it features perhaps the greatest use of Dead Kennedys in a TV show or film ever.
The setting of most of this episode, the hilariously-named Fuchtopia, is splendidly realized. It’s an SS nightmare vision of Disneyland, a sick Carousel of Progress (in a world where progress = science gone wrong), with the icing on the cake being those godforsaken puppets.
A good portion of this episode dives back into the idea of just how in control of our actions we all are. With Mr. Nobody acting as the seemingly-infallible narrator, our heroes genuinely don’t know if their pulling their own strings. In a similar way, the villain of this episode has created hundred of automatons to do his bidding. It’s easy to go along with the plans of a sick genius if you have no free will. And of course, to bring the metaphor home, we have a literal puppets that look like the brainchild of Gerry Anderson and Joseph Mengele — and somehow still creepier (and more giggle-inducing) than that sounds.
(Side-note: the puppet for the evil Dr. Von Fuchs seems to resemble the age he was when his experiments began…so why does the Chief’s look like the age he is now? Just how long has the Chief been at this? Another intriguing piece of the puzzle.)
This was an extremely fun episode, with several moving moments and some surprisingly gory action, which still seems to work best when they stick to practical effects. While the Silvertongue effects remain fun and innovative, the digital blood splatter used during portions of Cliff’s fight were a bit distracting. Cliff’s fight with the Disney cast members from hell was extremely entertaining, though. It’s what would happen if you dropped Robotman into one of Daredevil‘s patented “hallway fight” scenes: zero finesse, one-hundred-percent gross beatdown. To paraphrase the tagline to Superman: The Movie, you will believe a Nazi’s legs can be used as a bludgeoning tool.
Aside from a couple of spotty CGI shots, the effects were a marked improvement this week, especially in regards to Rita’s blobbier moments. What was a little distracting was an occasional blur around the edges of the screen. This is an odd choice, especially in normal scenes of people having a conversation. This visual aesthetic recently drove me bonkers while watching Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but it’s thankfully used much less egregiously in this instance.
The last gripe I have with this episode seems like a slight narrative hiccup. Larry goes to the chamber that Von Fuchs used to create Mr. Nobody and attempts to use it to separate the negative spirit from his body. It appears to work temporarily, but Larry is removed from the chamber before he can come to an understanding with the being.
This is confusing for several reasons, one of which being how Larry figured out how to operate the machine, especially while inside of it. We see the chamber sealed and activated from the outside in the pilot episode. Also, it seems like an odd leap to decide the machine that created Mr. Nobody would even be able to do what he wants.
There’s an implication within the episode that there are several different procedures, depending on what results you are looking for. We see a different chamber at the episode’s end, when we are introduced to a character I never thought I’d see outside of the comics (in one of the show’s wilder effects shots to date). It just doesn’t quite add up how Larry would come to this conclusion and set about carrying out this plan.
Regardless, while the logic doesn’t quite work, the emotional arc is seen through to the end (for this episode, at least). The personal story for Larry is solid, even if the execution left a little to be desired. After this week’s adventure, everyone on the team seems to have found new perspectives on themselves, for better or worse. One of the most compelling things about this show is the strong character work, which still comes through in this episode, comic book science be damned.
I’m still finding myself enjoying this show more than any other superhero offering on TV right now. It’s taking risks and allowing itself a depth of emotion that many shows of its genre wouldn’t dare.
Next week, join me as we are introduced to genre hero Mark Sheppard as yet another character I never expected to see on television: Willoughby Kipling!
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